This semester, I focused a lot on Eminent (an exploration of a person deemed ’eminent’), which included, extensive research, and finally, writing a speech to celebrate the person of eminence. My Eminent person was Simon (Tseko) Nkoli.
Because I have a passion for English, I found myself savouring (almost) every moment of the writing process, and, at times, I found myself elbow-deep in my work. I also discovered a previously unfounded openness to the project that I wasn’t expecting. Yes, I was nervous at times, and ultimately doubted my satisfaction with my speech, but, overall, it was an amazing experience.
Some things that I struggled with included, finding a point of view to narrate my speech from. The reason this proved to be difficult was because my eminent person was in prison for a long time, and since my narration had to come from someone or something close to him, I was in a rut. In the end, the most challenging aspect of the speech was not writing it, but presenting it. Naturally, I am not a prolific public speaker, so, when it was my turn to present, my hands were shaking, and though it didn’t feel like a good situation in the moment, I can look back on it more positively.
This was my speech:
October 13th, 1990,
Some 800 people flood the streets, their vibrance parting the pavement—much like a thawed brook, steadily depressing the earth as it makes its way downstream. As I stretch over the crowd, I feel myself expand, filling every splintered and beaten heart beneath me. I know they’re hurting; I know they need me.
I am love. I am here, yet I am there. Here, intertwined within the parade of people marching for a future that generations to come will learn to take for granted. There, amongst the clouds of marshmallow fantasies and evening strolls, where the sun has just kissed the mountain tops goodnight, gifting the skies with deep salmon reds and citrus lemon yellows.
At the front of the crowd, walks a man. Slim in figure, skin the color of rich chocolate, and a face betraying fragments of his past, he holds himself proudly. This man, despite his doleful face, stands strong—it’s You, Simon. Simon Tseko Nkoli.
We met nearly six years ago—although I’m sure you’ve forgotten by now. I was dwelling in the cells of the Pretoria Central Prison the day you arrived. From that moment I knew you were special.
You see, as love, it is my duty to fill the hearts of those who walk this earth. The larger and more benevolent the heart, the more space I pervade, the more love one procures. And, Simon, there was never a moment I doubted the paramount capacity your heart possessed.
For the next three years you sat alone in your cage; a beautiful swan; a tragic pitch of blackness, stark against the banks of ignorant and blissful white birds. Your gaze was one that could only be described as a blustery midsummer’s night storm, exuding the power of an untamed tiger.
On the 23rd of April, you write the first of many, tear-streaked and finger marked letters to Roy, your lover—ones that are eventually tucked and tightly sealed into the remnants of faded coffee envelopes. Your first letter reads mournfully, bestrewn with broken English, using words like, ‘’Roy, because of thinking of you everytime, I’ll try to face life – though sometime I think otherwise”.
May 23rd, 1985
Your letter today reads, “[Y]ou know I sometime think what is GASA saying about me. Do you think they are going to expel me from the association? And what is Saturday Group doing? Probably died …” I crumple at your words. The GASA is a predominantly white gay group that don’t understand your struggles of intersectionality. And, I’m saddened that you longer believe in the Saturday group—a group you founded after the GASA refused to expand their efforts into black communities—including your own. Through the Saturday group, you melted the hearts of those who were forced to harden after the world denied them of acceptance.
January 5th, 1996
In your letter this afternoon, you write of the tears you exhibited after reading Danielle Steel’s “To Love Again”. You talk about how some suffer because of love—because of me, but how they also learn to be brave. Thanks to you, Simon, I know now that heartache and love are two sides of the same coin.
October 13th, 1990,
One thousand, two hundred, and one days since your release from prison. Today, you and GLOW—the first non-racial gay group in South Africa, held the first pride parade the African continent has ever seen. It was wondrously planned and flawlessly executed with not only skill, but compassion. The last-minute call to bring paper bags for participants who wished to stay anonymous proved to be a relief to those who couldn’t risk the unveiling of their identity. Yet, by the end of the march, many threw their brown paper masks to the ground, feeling me ingulf their entire being, diminishing all shame they held in their satiated hearts.
May 8th, 1996,
Three thousand, two hundred, and thirty-five days since your release from prison. South Africa is now the first nation in the world to include sexual orientation protection in its constitution. Simon, without your dedication and strength, this country you call home might never have gotten to see today unfold.
September 12th, 1988,
It’s been nearly two weeks since you died. Today, heartache and I stand side by side. Today, over a thousand people attend your funeral. You only lived to 41. You may have died of AIDS, but there is no doubt you will still live on in the hearts of others.
Because of you, multiple pride parades are held in South Africa every year. All those colors and smiles—a result you set in motion.
I am love; I have loved you every moment of every day, and now I say goodbye. Now, I say thank you.